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On Cleopatra's Fine Coat of Gold with Heather Hartnett

Heather Hartnett on her character process for Antony and Cleopatra.

My feelings of the characters I play often change from rehearsal to performance. I think of my character as a “jacket” or “coat” that I put on and take off. In the beginning, it is just a pencil sketch. It is very simple. It is a general shape I create with text analysis. Second, I add color to the sketch and choose the fabric for my “coat”. This step often takes a little longer because the type of fabric, color, weight, and feel makes a huge difference to my character’s emotions, moods, first impressions, etc. Third, I “stitch” my character-coat together by weaving thoughts, emotion, and voice intonation.

During this time, my “coat” doesn’t always fit. It may be tight in some places or I don’t like where I have placed a pocket or seam. I have to make adjustments. Sometimes, I borrow something from another coat I’ve worn. I learn from past experience.

Next, I add embellishments to my coat: a brooch or trim, maybe some special stitching. This is the character’s back story, core beliefs and main motivations. I try it on and by now, it feels pretty good and fits fairly comfortably. Then, I perform in this coat I have created in the last 5-6 weeks. Under the lights, with the other characters and the eye of audience scrutiny, it fairs well.

But during a scene, all of a sudden, my coat sleeve may feel tight or I find can’t breathe with the buttons buttoned, so back to my sewing room I go for more adjustments and additions (or subtractions.) This process continues through the entire performance period. The coat I started with on opening night is not quite the same on closing night.

In the end, I am always filled with a bittersweet feeling as I remove my coat on closing night. But, as I hang it in the closet with all of my other coats, I know that someday I just might need some of that pretty Cleopatra gold to complete my next coat.

I hope you all will come and see Antony and Cleopatra. It is a wonderful play. It has transcended the ages. I find it hard not to think of all the generations of actors and audiences that have explored the world of Antony and Cleopatra and all who have yet to start their journey. See you in Egypt!

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